August 20, 2012
We’ve been in Ukraine for a week. It was pouring when we arrived and now, a week later, we’re having a thunderstorm. We did manage to have a couple of sunny days in between, but not many. Sunny and cloudy is a good way to describe our experiences, like the joys and trials of moving to a new country.
Living in a place where I don’t speak the language has definitely given me more compassion than I had before for people who come to America and don’t yet speak English. I am working on Russian every day, but I know it will take a lot of time before I have enough vocabulary and grammar to be actually useful. I went to the market today and bought 12 buns ($1.50), garlic (12 cents) and hot peppers (also 12 cents). At both the garlic and hot pepper stands, I couldn’t understand when they said when I asked how much it cost and I couldn’t even read the numbers when they wrote them down because they write their numbers in such a funky script. They each turned out to be 1 Griven, which, when abbreviated, looks like the Greek letter gamma, p, H.
It’s amazing how the little things feel like huge accomplishments when you are in a totally foreign place. Learning how to take a bus (I had to learn to say “4” so I could pay for four tickets) and that you have to punch your ticket on this little thing to prove you paid, finding out after several trips that the kids are free on the metro and just plugging in our alarm clock without blowing it up on the first night were major accomplishments. (Our American power strip did go “poof” when we first plugged it in, but it still works!!!!!)
Our apartment definitely has some nice American conveniences, like a dishwasher (which we didn’t know how to run until today…the directions are in English but they don’t actually tell you how to turn it on!), a microwave and a wide screen tv with dvd player, surround sound and a karaoke mic. There are other things that are a big change though, like the microscopic washing machine (we’re doing laundry every day!), which I suppose is so small because you have to hang out everything to dry (fortunately we have an enclosed balcony with clotheslines in it). We have to use a match to light the gas stove burners, which is actually kind of fun. Don’t tell anyone, but Bill accidently lit a towel on fire!!!! Then there’s the elevator. I don’t even want to know what year it was installed, when it’s last safety inspection was or what the chances are that I’ll be stuck in it someday.
I was feeling pretty good about things at school today as I mapped out the year for music classes and managed to answer seven people’s questions in the office, even though I haven’t been trained in on anything yet, except how to log in to the computer system and that this one drawer has money in it and has to be locked every night. The kids and I stopped by the market to get the above mentioned items and then walked home (5 minutes from the school).
We got to the outside door and I asked Katja if she wanted to open it and she did. It uses a thing with an electronic chip of some sort inside that opens the door. I decided I better be fair and asked Josiah if he wanted to try to open our apartment door. You do have to turn the key around about 3 times, but I figured something as mundane as opening a door was something I could let an eight-year-old do.
Wrong. He didn’t put the key all the way in and then turned it a quarter turn or so. There is stayed. Stuck. Never to move again. I wiggled and jiggled it for a few minutes. I then decided to try to call for help. I have about five people’s phone numbers in my phone, one of whom was a man we met at church who only speaks Russian, so I had four possibilities to actually get help. As I called each one, a recording came on in Russian, and then English telling me I had a wrong number.
What?????? It turns our that the numbers were right, but I hadn’t added money to the phone account yet, and it was out of minutes. Anyway, I couldn’t call anyone.
So the kids and I walked back to school for help. I told the headmaster, Cathy, what had happened, and she got Velodya for me. Velodya is pretty much the most amazing person at the school. He speaks some English and is in charge of transportation, grounds and the building. He’s the go-to guy for anything you need. Velodya drove us home in his van and tried to get the door open. He returned to the van for tools and tried some more. In the meantime, our neighbor came out to see what was going on. Then some other neighbors passed by. There are 4 apartments on our floor and I think we saw everyone who lives on the floor. Velodya left to go back to school for a drill. We somehow told the neighbor that he went for a drill and then she came back out of her apartment with a drill. Later she brought out glasses of water for us and then apples. Bill and Katja had to use her bathroom, which was barely big enough for the toilet and didn’t have a sink.
Velodya returned and broke about 3 drill bits and the key trying to drill into the lock to release it. Then he called the landlord and finally a locksmith. The locksmith was into our apartment in about 1 minute and then put in a new lock all for the price of 550 griven (about $70). Since we now have new keys, our old keys will make a nice souvenir of our time in Kiev. Especially the broken one.
I did start crying at one point when Bill and the kids were outside. Velodya said “don’t cry” and “don’t let your kids see you cry” and told me about another staff member who had to call him once when she got locked INSIDE her apartment.
Our landlord, Mikail, came in the meantime and worked on hooking up our phone (which is not done yet) and brought us some more stools for the kitchen counter/table and didn’t seem to be mad about the whole key incident.
The $70 sort of makes up for the cheap garlic and peppers (and the other produce that is incredibly cheap) and we have a good story to tell.
I know there will be lots of joys and challenges during our time here. I’m especially excited to start school on Wednesday so we can begin our real work here: supporting the families of missionaries by teaching their kids. Now if we can only get our internet hooked up so I can actually post this blog …
Until next time, I love you all who might actually take the time to read this!